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‘Frost/Nixon’ First Daughter Jenn Gotzon Plucks Lead Role Opposite John Schneider in Small-town ‘Doonby’

Jenn Gotzon

Jenn Gotzon, who portrayed President Nixon’s daughter Tricia in director Ron Howard’s Oscar-nominated “Frost/Nixon,” starring Frank Langella, has just finished co-starring with “The Dukes of Hazzard” icon John Schneider in “Doonby”, a feature set in a small Texas town where a happy-go-lucky visitor’s good deeds do not go, as they say, unpunished.

Cast as the female lead in the Nobody Film Co. production from British writer/director Peter Mackenzie and producers Mark Joseph, Mike Mackenzie and Tommy Warren, Gotzon plays the “Smallville” regular’s love interest, who’s both smitten with and suspicious of, the chivalry, heroism and seeming omnipresence of her town’s newest resident, Sam Doonby, played by Schneider. She and her co-star began principal photography on the film on May 10th near Austin, TX.

Newcomer Gotzon — who last year appeared in a flurry of films and television programs, including “500 Days of Summer,” “Role Models,” “Yes Man” and ABC’s “Pushing Daisies” — will be joined on “Doonby” by veteran actors Robert Davi, who plays the local sheriff; Joe Estevez and Jennifer O’Neill as her country club-set parents; and Ernie Hudson as the proprietor of a country/blues club where Sam works and plays a mean axe.

“Jenn’s star is rising, and we’re glad we hooked our wagon up to her,” said writer/director Peter Mackenzie, who describes the picture as a cross between “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Crazy Heart”. “She brings a lot of energy, wholesomeness and innocence to the role”.

John Schneider plays Sam Doonby, a handsome drifter who gets off of a bus in a small Texas town, finds work at Leroy's Country/Blues Bar....and the mystery begins

Producer Mark Joseph noted of Gotzon, “She was one of the first people we thought of for the role. And when we sent her the script she fell in love with it as I had. It was a perfect fit”.

Gotzon has been a regular participant in the Movieguide® Awards as well as the faith-based 168 Film Festival. In 2008 she received the Rising Star award at the Wildwood-by-the-Sea (NJ) Film Festival for her growing body of work, and won Best Actress at the 168 Film Festival for her turn as a political prisoner in the futuristic “Stained”.

Gotzon is repped by Remington Agency’s David Brown and managed by talent maven Beverlee Dean, whose clients have included Reese Witherspoon and Jim Caviezel. The deal on filmmakers’ end was brokered by Joseph of Bully! Pulpit Pictures and Nobody’s Mike Mackenzie.

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Q&A With Jenn Gotzon:

Q: What have been some of your career highlights so far?

JG: Since I was 15, I would pray every night to work professionally (as a leading actress) in films that entertain and inspire. My journey as an actor has consistently been based in passion, prayer, perseverance and faith in God. The highlights of my career began studying at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, then dancing for Walt Disney World as a seasonal entertainer, competing for Miss America Pageant system locally speaking on a platform to inspire people to pursue their dreams, nominated best actor for NYC Timmy Awards for a dramatic photography series based on my testimony called “Avvicinatevi: Come Near” (James 8:8), moved to San Francisco Bay Area starred in my first feature film “Julie and Jack” (awarded best actress at Global Art Film Festival in Sacramento), starred in many other independent features and shorts including the film “Scenario for Delirium” I met my beloved writer-director husband Chris Armstrong on.

Prior to moving to LA, I worked at Google acclimating the Noogler’s (New Hires) into Google’s culture (and Google’s 10 – the weight gained after working at Google for a month from yummy gourmet food). Seeking God if acting was the journey I should be on, the Lord gave me the verse Challenge all the impossibilities with me… A day later, my heart was affirmed with playing a tiny role in Ang Lee’s “The Hulk”. Upon moving to Los Angeles, my husband and I found fellowship and foundation through attending weekly bible studies at Tinseltown Ministries and developing ongoing friendships with a great-hearted filmmaking community called 168 Film Project (both have now become our family). My prayers became more focused on playing emotionally dynamic protagonist roles in redemptive films.

Jenn Gotzon pictured with singer, Chubby Checker

Josh Weigel cast me in his 168 Film project called “Stained” (allegory of the gospel created with a powerful redemptive storyline) which swept the festival winning best film, audience choice, achieved cinematic history being first film shot on RED One camera to win a fest (and I was blessed with best actress). Soon I began speaking across the country to schools, churches and festival audiences about my journey overcoming obstacles pursuing my passion called “Inspiring Audiences” in hopes to encourage others to find their God given gifts and live their dreams.

My big career break and childhood prayer answered was working with Ron Howard on “Frost/Nixon” living through our nation’s history portraying President Nixon’s Daughter Tricia in reenactments of Nixon’s resignation which lead to experiencing the excitement when a film is recognized as Oscar-worthy with five nominations. I was presented a “Rising Star Award” at Wildwood Film Festival for “Chemistry”. Overall, I’ve been in over 80 projects including films, tv, commercials, and voiceovers – the lead of over 30 independents and featured in several studio pictures such as Frost/Nixon, Role Models, The Hulk, TV’s “Pushing Daisies”, “CSI NY” and “House”. Currently in 2010, I’m thrilled to pieces to play the female protagonist and love interest in Peter Mackenzie’s passion project “Doonby”.

Q: What was it like playing President Nixon’s daughter?

JG: Playing Tricia Nixon was a gift. It was a joy studying Tricia with the goal to accurately portray her emotional being, thought-life, behaviors & mannerisms and precious family relationships. I researched everything I could find on Tricia at the Nixon Library, the “Pat Nixon” book written by Julie Nixon-Eisenhower, archive footage, pictures and editorials online. Nixon’s farewell speech and departure to his helicopter were archived video. Every movement, physical gesture, emotional temperament Tricia experienced on that difficult day for her family, I tried to accurately portray. The other four scenes I was in were not historically documented, though from all my study about Tricia. I deeply felt the remorse from the resignation and love she had for her dad… — and still does.

One of my favorite moments on “Frost/Nixon” was after Frank Langella (President Nixon) concluded his farewell speech and we joined hands as a family to say good-bye. When Ron called cut, cast and crew in the room expressed sentiments that we felt like we all just lived through that time in history because the emotional tone in the room was dynamically sad from Frank’s powerful performance. There is a funny story related to this. For, during farewell speech, I fought tears back trying to hold posture and strength as Tricia did (for nearly four hours) as soon as we broke for lunch, I blinked and my contact flew out of my eye because of the tear build up.

Q: Do you have a method of acting?

JG: Living truthfully through imaginative circumstances is the biggest playground of fun for me. I’ve studied with close to 50 teachers (The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, Joanne Baron/DW Brown Studio, Clay Banks Film Acting Studio, to name a few) and use all the wisdom my teachers have taught. For me, it’s having a plethora of tools on my belt and when I begin working I pull the appropriate tool for the job. Mostly, I absorb myself into visualizing in my imagination what the writer captured in words, the director’s vision of depiction, and begin living through the moments following my impulse and emotional instincts from connecting to the relationships in the scene’s given circumstances. There are different levels of intensity I bring for various camera angles. In a master, I enjoy finding creative physical movements that may bring an additional level of interest and dynamic…and then in an extreme close up I thrive on taking all that I am feeling, internalize my emotions and pulse my thought life through my eyes.

I love being upbeat on set, though when I’m working intently with heavy emotional scenes… I will separate from any distraction to absorb myself into my imagination which begins my emotional preparation. For me, it takes a handful of minutes for me to prepare fully. It helps me to ‘stay in character’ in between takes shooting the scene, but as soon as we finish the scene… I am back to my joyful self.

Q: What is “Doonby” about?

JG: “Doonby” is a mysterious-dramatic film entangled within a love story between Sam Doonby (played by John Schneider) and my character, Laura Reaper. Sam is a happy-go-lucky drifter who takes up residence in a small Texas town, falls in love with Laura, but seems suspiciously immune to the misfortunes that beset her family and the other townsfolk. There is a surprise at the end along with a wonderfully surprising cameo that I think the audience is going to find compelling and surprising.

Q: How did you get the part?

JG: Mark Joseph, one of the producers of “Doonby”, and I were friends on Facebook. He thought I would be good for the role. I soon met “Doonby” writer-director Peter Mackenzie and my involvement along the “Doonby” adventure began, and it has been the time of my life.

Q: What was it like working with John Schneider?

JG: Working with John Schneider has been wonderful. John is a brilliant leading-man. He brings a captivating charisma to screen similar to that of George Clooney through his role of Sam Doonby. John is also a genius musician (all the way back from him working with Johnny Cash) and brings his country sounds to stage throughout the movie. One of the most impressive attributes about John Schneider is his ability to arrive on set for blocking rehearsal and effortlessly create a cinematic performance that minimizes camera set ups. This ability is insanely amazing because it consistently saved hours on the set shooting “Doonby”. I have learned so much from John as a professional actor and really enjoyed developing a special friendship with him.

Q: What is the message viewers will take away after watching “Doonby”?

JG: I think “Doonby” will entertain audiences from the upbeat country music and energy of the story, then will gradually reach into the hearts touching an audience about how each of us has a special purpose in life and were created for a significant reason. There is so much in this movie that will reach audiences everywhere, especially because of the mystery and surprise ending Peter Mackenzie wrote and directed.

Q: What is it like working in Hollywood as a Christian?

JG: Working in Hollywood is no different for me than working anywhere in the nation such as my hometown Northampton, PA… except the amount of people chatting about the “industry” while placing their order for Starbucks :) Since my husband is a filmmaker/owner of Elysian Pictures, it is really great living in a town where there are so many talented friends who enjoy making redemptive and inspirational content with excellence. This past year, our friend Loren Brock and I produced a few projects for him easily because of the amount of resources available established from our faith-friendly filmmaking community 168 Film Project. We keep grounded in our walk with God by attending a weekly Bible Study called “Tinseltown Ministries” which meets on a studio lot and going to church. There are many groups and organizations that minister to those walking with the Lord (Movieguide®, Act One, Greenhouse, 168 Film Project, Beacon, Biola Media, etc)… one of my new favorites is the group my husband and I are a part of called Entertainment Alliance which focuses on mentoring (trade and biblically) to the newbies of Hollywood.

Q: Did you ever feel like you don’t belong there?

JG: When you strive to genuinely love, encourage and serve those around you wherever you go… I believe God provides a place for us wherever He leads. I’ve really enjoyed my time on every set I’ve worked on here in Hollywood and throughout the country. Working with Ron Howard’s production team, you could feel the fellowship from everyone because they’ve all worked together for years. It was a great family… just like working last summer for writer-director Brent McCorkle “The Rift” (Doorpost third place winning film) shot near Austin, TX. Brent’s independent film set was the same “faith-filled-family” vibe as that on Ron’s Oscar-nominated film’s set. It’s about relationships and loving and encouraging those around you. Also, I believe it is very important when God blesses with an opportunity to work with excellence as a professional… when doing so, I believe those of faith or those seeking belong when you serve with kindness.

Q: What would you say to a young Christian who wants to get involved in movies?

JG: Since my journey has been consistently grounded in the Lord, such as reading the Bible, prayer journaling, developing a community for fellowship, while pursuing passionately the gifts and purpose I believe are from the Lord, my advice would be for a young Christian is to 1) Keep your focus on the Lord and His Righteousness, 2) Pray for God to give you direction, 3) Step out in child-like faith upon His direction, 4) Trust God will provide in His timing (not our timing), 5) Love those around you like Jesus loves all you, 6) When you hit obstacles or failures, find growth and depth with your relationship with God and how He fearfully created you in your mother’s womb with a hope and future, 7) God desires to be our only God… avoid making your career be your God… (When I’m living inline with those above thoughts, blessings have occurred: such as when I got cast in “Frost/Nixon” and most recently offered the role of Laura Reaper in Doonby) From a practical point of view, understand everyone’s journey is different:

She then gave some further advice:

1) Educate yourself so you are excellent in your trade (acting, writing, directing, lighting, editing, music, etc), 2) prayerfully seize every opportunity presented to you or go out and find opportunities (craigslist, local theater, college films, contact local agencies, etc).  Experience, combined with education, creates a solid foundation for your trade, 3) Find a mentor and have them guide you, 4) When the Lord prompts you to speak to someone about your passion/trade or pursue in a certain direction, trust that is the Holy Spirit. Many times, when we follow God’s promptings there is bountiful fruit. 2) Prayer, perseverance and faith in Jesus has been my guidance along my life’s adventures. God Bless your journey! If I can help you, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook.

Dan Wooding, International director of Assist News Service

Note: This story is based on a news release from the MJM Group.
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